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The Christmas pickle is a Christmas tradition in the United States. A decoration in the shape of a pickle is hidden on a Christmas tree, with the finder receiving either a reward or good fortune for the following year. There are a number of different origin stories attributed to the tradition, but it was primarily thought to have originated in Germany. This has since been disproved and is now thought to be an American tradition from the late 19th century.
Traditionally, an ornamental pickle is placed on a Christmas tree as one of the Christmas decorations. On Christmas morning, the first child to find the pickle on the tree would receive an extra present from Santa Claus or would be said to have a year of good fortune.
Berrien Springs, Michigan is known as the Christmas pickle capital of the world, and holds a yearly pickle festival in early December. A pickle parade has been held since 1992. The village is in the area of Michigan known for cucumber production.
This tradition is commonly believed by Americans to come from Germany and be referred to as a Weihnachtsgurke, but this is probably apocryphal. In fact, the tradition is largely unknown in Germany. It has been suggested that the origin of the Christmas pickle may have been developed for marketing purposes in the 1890s to coincide with the importation of glass Christmas tree decorations from Germany. Woolworths was the first company to import these types of decorations into the United States in 1890, and glass blown decorative vegetables were imported from France from 1892 onwards. Despite the evidence showing that the tradition did not originate in Germany, the concept of Christmas pickles has since been imported from the United States and they are now on sale in the country traditionally associated with it.
One suggested origin has been that the tradition came from Camp Sumter during the American Civil War. The Bavarian-born Private John C. Lower had enlisted in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, but was captured in April 1864 and taken to the prison camp. As the story is told, on Christmas Eve he begged a guard for a pickle while starving. The guard provided the pickle, which Lower later credited for saving his life. After returning to his family, he began a tradition of hiding a pickle on their Christmas tree each year.